The Takoma Park city council wants to get more residents into the voting booth. Voter turnout has always been embarrassingly low – 18% of registered voters in the last election. It is particularly in wards with a high percentage of renters in large apartment buildings.
What’s the way we deal with problems in Takoma Park, Dear Readers? Form a TASK FORCE!
Councilmember Tim Male has proposed a Right to Vote Resolution that calls for such a task force. It would also call on Congress to support a constitutional amendment granting American citizens the right to vote – something that is not spelled out in the U.S. constitution.
The city’s task force on voting would be charged with squeezing more votes out of residents: strengthening and extending early voting provisions, review laws that effect voting, make recommend policy changes to uphold voting rights and increase voter participation – such as allowing people as young as 16 to vote, and offer translations of ballots and other voting materials in several languages.
The other proposal before the council is from council member Seth Grimes. It would allow voter registration on election day. Currently registration cuts off a month before the day of voting – just as the campaigns are starting and most residents are not paying much attention.
Anecdotal evidence from the council suggests extending voter registration would get at least a few more voters to the polls. They confirmed having similar experiences as those bemoaned by council member Kay Daniels-Cohen. She described trudging up stairs to knock on doors to deliver her campaign spiel, only to discover the residents were not registered voters, and it was too late for them to register.
So, the law extending registration right up to election day would solve that problem.
This will mean a city charter change. Despite the recent drama the council went through over a city charter change, the council seemed hung-ho to go through the exacting measures again. To change the city charter there must be a certain number of public hearings at certain time. Public notice must be given in local publications (a city expense), and a time schedule kept.
Getting renters involved in city elections was an issue on both council member’s minds, soo. Most of the city’s large rental buildings prohibit campaigning on the premises, as well as campaign signs, and literature. So, anecdotally, again, it seems access may be one reason renters don’t vote. Grimes, says he is thinking of some kind of housing code change that would address this problem, and Male’s Right to Vote Resolution says apartment building election posters are needed.
The question nobody is asking
How do we know this will get non-voters to the polls?
As far as we can see, nobody has bothered to ask non-voters why they don’t vote. Perhaps that should be Job #1 for the Task Force on Voting – a survey or poll (done by volunteers, please – not paid for by city revenues). It seems like the proposals follow liberal assumptions about why people don’t vote rather than on actual data.
Your Gilbert doesn’t know why people don’t vote, but we suspect its because they don’t care enough to. We suspect voters tend to be people who have lived here a while, know the issues and the people, are involved in their neighborhood associations, and who see reasons to vote for or against something or somebody. And what makes people care is when something effects them personally – when they feel like they need to take a side. Our elections rarely offer two sides to any issues. In the last general election the two candidates vying for the Ward 2 seat were as alike as two peas in a pod, and had to fall back on personality differences to find a disagreement between them.
Most residents, we suspect, are happy to live here, enjoy the services and ambiance, and have no reason to vote because the services and ambiance are not threatened. A non-vote is actually a vote of confidence.
Meanwhile, the people who actually administer the vote, the city Board of Elections, want some other reforms.
They want to simplify the vote, board chair Marilyn Abbott told the city council Jan. 22. The board recommends dropping the vote “verification” system used in the last few elections. This involved having a number printed in invisible ink on the ballot, revealed with a special pen issued to each voter. The voter would write down the number, then look it up online to make sure his or her ballot was counted.
Councilmember Kay Daniels-Cohen agreed wholeheartedly, calling the system “hugely confusing.” Only around 6% of voters used the system, anyway, both she and the Board representative noted.
There are other simplifications the board wants, and these would involve getting a new vendor to run the elections. The vendor would provide voting machines, software support, ballot design, tabulation of votes, access to and interactions with the county poll-book, and perhaps printing ballots-on-demand to eliminate the wastage of printing extra ballots.
Why not just go back to paper ballots, asked councilmember Fred Schultz. After all, he said, it’s not a lot of ballots to count.
Abbott replied that the city’s “instant runoff voting (IRV)” system complicates hand-counting of ballots. As far as voters are concerned, however, they are filing out a paper ballot, she said. The technology comes later as the ballot data is scanned into a computer.
She said she had no problems with council member Grimes’ proposal to offer voter registration on election day.
With a sound like the distant roaring of an approaching Mongol horde, the council began a discussion of budget priorities and financial matters. There will be more of this to come, Dear Readers, culminating in the sacking and pillaging otherwise known as Budget Reconciliation. You’ve been warned.
The discussion opened Jan. 22 with an unsettling list of high expenses and lower revenue presented by acting city manager Suzanne Ludlow.
The speed cameras are not producing their projected income. Seems the law says the city can’t impose impose late fees, as it has been doing in previous years. There is also the worrisome development that due to Baltimore’s mismanagement of its speed cameras, the state legislature will likely fix it’s greedy spider-eyes on them this session. Who knows what will come of that? It could well end with the city wrapped in webbing and sucked dry. And it could mean the end of an income source the city has come to depend on to fund some police positions, traffic safety, and sidewalk construction.
Of course, the city ONLY has speed cameras for TRAFFIC SAFETY, not for revenue. So, naturally, nobody would care if the fees went to the state instead of the city.
As for new expenses, Ludlow had list. New staff positions were mentioned. Councilmember Grimes would like a new resource staff position. The police would like an emergency planning position.
In a request that is sure to enflame residents still bitter over the run-away construction costs of the city’s community center, Ludlow asked for an architect position to deal with the community center’s design flaws. The building is “wearing out,” she said. It needs some new wall and screen treatments and other measures to reduce mantanance costs, and some reconfiguring to find more storage space.
Good news is that the Governor’s budget allots $200,000 of highway user fees to the city. That’s up from last year’s $90,000, but not as high as 2009’s $500,000.
Unknown is what new property value assessments will mean. Lower assessments mean less revenues (and maybe higher taxes).